Turkey and Malaysia represent two outstanding examples of democratic development in the Muslim world while being located on the very eastern and western edges of the vast Asian continent. Both countries are characterized by relative political stability, dynamic private sectors with strong international competitiveness and vibrant civil societies.
Moreover, both countries possess a strong claim for identity politics and the representation of certain sets of values, virtues and traditions that stem from their robust Islamic identities and rich historical legacies.
I am writing this column from the bustling capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, where I had the chance to spend a few days on the occasion of a crucial conference on the "Historical Legacy and Governance of Waqfs" organized by the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). While listening to invaluable presentations on the rich heritage and contemporary state of charitable foundations (waqfs) in South Asia by leading experts from Japan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, I also had the chance to spend valuable time with the honorable rector of IIUM, Prof. Zalaha Kamaruddin. It was truly inspiring to witness her enthusiasm and compassion to initiate various academic projects and training programs across the vast geography of the Muslim world. IIUM constitutes a vibrant intellectual hub in Southeast Asia attracting staff and students from all around the Muslim world, thereby representing a model that can be reproduced in other geographies as well.
Turkey's new ambassador in Kuala Lumpur, Dr. Merve Kavakçı, also displayed great courtesy by receiving us in her residence and sharing her comprehensive vision concerning current world affairs and the ways to improve multifaceted relations between the two countries. Obviously, Dr. Kavakçı is a greatly symbolic figure in Turkey's recent political history as the first elected women member of parliament wearing a headscarf in the 1990s, but who was forcefully banned from entering the parliament under the conditions of ultra-secular post-modern coup of 28 February 1997. She was then ousted from Turkish citizenship and had to endure difficult years abroad as a Harvard educated political scientist. Seeing her honored by the Turkish state, and appointed as the Turkish Ambassador in Kuala Lumpur with the knowledge that she will employ all her academic and international experience for the service of diplomacy, was a fantastic reminder of the tremendous achievements of Turkey's normalization over the course of the last decade and a half.
At this particular juncture of history, both Turkey and Malaysia are standing on the eve of critical transitions and great openings. Over the course of recent weeks both countries came out of critical election periods which will certainly have a lasting influence on their transformation trajectory in the future. In Turkey, both President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party emerged victorious from the combined presidential and general elections as a result of which the country is about to formally complete the transition to a presidential system. The dawn of a completely new era will emerge from Ankara when President Erdoğan takes the oath on Monday in the presence of around 20 heads of state from around the world. This transition is expected to speed up decision making, rationalize policy formulation and implementation through bureaucratic channels and contribute to Turkey's socioeconomic development initiative. Malaysia also went through a critical election period as a result of which Mahathir Muhammad who was the architect of Malaysia's swift development in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, a powerful figure standing for Asian values and strengthening ASEAN to the realm of power. Former Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim who is known for his intellectual depth and passionate defense of Islamic values and principles also turned into civilian politics and is expected to take over the top post sometime in the future. Expectedly, the return of Mahathir Muhammad and Anwar Ibrahim to the political stage as powerful actors signify a new period in which Malaysia will embark on socioeconomic development and global integration with more emphasis on Islamic identity and regional values.
Overall, these trends towards administrative centralization and strong leaderships herald a new era of intensive collaboration between Turkey and Malaysia both on a bilateral basis and in multilateral platforms including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.